Gulf Shores Alabama has not been the luckiest city for the past few decades. As its position on the coast makes it particularly vulnerable to Hurricanes, the town has been battered here and there, beginning most notably in 1979 when Hurricane Frederic did massive damage to the town. Add to this two other large hurricanes in the 2000s and the unfortunate BP oil spill, and it is a true testament to the local government and population that Gulf Shores is as wonderful as it is today. To say that the city has bounced back would be to put it mildly. Today, Gulf Shores is full of beautiful beaches, crystal clear water, and boundless activities, making it a phenomenal choice for vacation at almost any time of the year, be it family-oriented or romantic. Here are ten great places to visit in Gulf Shores.
Originating in the 18th century, paddleboarding has seen a bit of United States resurgence in the past few decades. The sport itself is relatively simple – standing upright upon a very thick surfboard and utilizing an extended paddle to propel oneself across the water. What is nice about paddleboard is that most first-timers catch on pretty quickly, but it can be deceptively difficult: keeping ones balance on a paddleboard – especially on relatively choppy water – can be somewhat physically exhausting. Rentals are typically around $25/hour or around $60/day and are available anywhere you can rent kayaks. Don’t forget sunscreen!
9. Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo
As covered on Animal Planet’s special “The Little Zoo that could,” the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo evacuated all of its animals twice in two years due to dangerous hurricanes in the late 1990s. The logistical cost of transporting the animals safely, as well as the cost of the extensive repairs that were required almost put the zoo out of business, but was saved by fund-raising. Again in the mid-2000’s, hurricanes caused an evacuation and a zoo closure. Today, there has been sufficient media attention and donations that the zoo can serve as a wonderful example of education and perseverance. Many of the animals can be visited much closer than most zoos, and it is clear that the staff is beyond passionate. Tickets start at $11 for adults.
8. Fort Morgan State Historic Site
The site upon which Fort Morgan currently sits has always been a strategic military point. It was used to fend off British attacks during the War of 1812, and then was re-built to protect Mobile, Alabama from Union advances during the Civil War. The Union forces eventually captured the fort forcing the occupying Confederates to surrender. Even during World War I and World War II the fort was heavily militarized. Today, the historic fort is available for tours seven days a week. Visitors can view the national historic landmark up close and personal, and explore the portions that are not closed for repairs.
7. Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge
Named for the french “safe harbor,” Bon Secour is a large federally protected wildlife refuge, consisting of over 6,000 acres of land. Established in 1980, the refuge serves as a stopover for many migratory birds, where they can earn some rest and respite for the journey ahead. There is a host of other endangered species that utilize the refuge as well, including the Alabama Beach Mouse, and several types of sea turtles. There are bountiful trails for hiking, but be sure to pack bug spray. The refuge is free of charge.
6. World Class Golfing
If there is one thing besides beaches that is in abundance in Gulf Shores, it is certainly golf courses. There are a handful of courses scattered across the town, each with its own distinct flavor, difficulty, and scenery. Perhaps most notable is the Peninsula Golf and Racquet Club, designed by professional golf architect Earl Stone. With a total of 27 holes that run the entire gamut of difficulty and scenery, Peninsula is one of the areas best. Other great courses include Gulf Shores Golf Club, Kiva Dunes Golf Club, and Cotton Creek.
5. Waterville USA
If you are traveling with kids, you definitely should check out Waterville. Essentially a giant waterpark and amusement park combination, Waterville spans over 20 acres of land and is less than half a mile from the coast. With 17 fun waterslides, a lazy river, a wave pool, a roller coast, go-karts, an arcade and plenty more, Waterville provides a fantastic alternative for the whole family to staying cool on a sweltering Alabama day. Open from March through September weekends.
4. Beach Flight Aviation
For one of the more adventurous tourist attractions in Gulf Shores, Beach Flight Aviation offers flights around the coast in an open-air propeller-based trike – or Powered Hang Gliders – with just enough room for two. A fully certified flight school, the two owners have years upon years of experience, so there is no need to worry…unless, of course, you are afraid of heights. The company offers ‘discovery’ flights that take you up into the air with an instructor, but also offers instruction flights, where you are able to learn how to fly the aircraft yourself!
3. Scuba or Snorkeling
Your friends might not connect the State of Alabama with the sport of snorkeling, but right off the coast there are plenty of underwater treasures waiting to be discovered. Although the differences in climate do not allow for the brightly colored coral reefs of the mid-Pacific and Caribbean, the waters contain many interesting sites, with plenty sightings of octopi, stingrays, butterfly fish, sea turtles, and more. AAA Charters will take patrons out on a glass-bottomed boat, and lend snorkeling gear beginning at only $35 per person. Many companies also offer scuba lessons, as there are many abandoned ship wrecks and other interesting sites along the coastline.
2. Dauphin Island Sea Lab
Located on Dauphin Island, off the Western Coast of the peninsula, the Sea Lab serves over 20 colleges and universities in the surrounding area, serving as their center for research opportunities from everything from marine biology to biogeochemistry. The facilities also include the Estuarium, an aquarium open to the public, which boasts over 100 species on display. As there are plenty of researchers on hand, you can expect a more educational experience than you normally experience at an aquarium, especially if you take advantage of one of their guided tours.
1. Gulf State Park
For a State Park, this destination has an abundance of activities available for all ages. Situated right on the coast, Gulf State Park has over two miles of gorgeous sandy beaches, but also boasts a professional golf course, plenty of hiking trails, a campground, and even a zip line course (highly recommended). There are plenty of opportunities to witness the wildlife of the coast here, including alligators, bobcats, and bears. Furthermore, there is a large pier that juts out over 1500 feet into the water, serving as a fantastic vantage point for drop fishing, especially since rentals are available.
Despite being battered time and time again by hurricanes, Gulf Shores has proven itself to be an extremely resilient city, remaining a tourist hotspot that attracts visitors from all across the southeast. Once an important military stronghold, the city now almost entirely focuses on its tourism and education industry. Out of all the things to do in Gulf Shores, there will never be a dull day, even if they are all spent lounging on the beach or by the pool.